Thursday, June 29, 2006

When MGM and Warners went union

May, 1941: locked out at Schlesinger. From left to right: Ben Washam (later president of Local 839), Roy Laupenberger, two unknowns, Paul Morin and Martha Goldman Sigall. From the Animation Guild Archive.
It was way back before Pearl Harbor. Tom Sito tells the tale in another excerpt from Drawing the Line ...
...In 1939, a National Labor Relations Board ruling awarded the Screen Cartoonists Guild jurisdiction over all levels of production of animation from writing to painting... After several years of slowly building infrastructure and goodwill, new SCG president and MGM animator Bill Littlejohn and the other leaders planned an organizing blitz on cartoon studios. By early 1941, they quickly signed contracts with Walter Lantz and George Pal. An artist himself, but no stranger to the financial pressures of production, Walter Lantz was refreshingly cooperative to signing a union contract with his artists. Littlejohn and a young inbetweener named Pepe Ruiz then went to work trying to convince MGM artists to sign with the guild. Some of the organizers the American Federation of Labor sent to help were experienced in the roughhours school of 1930s industrial actions and were not used to talking to cartoonists. Gus Arriola, who in later years created the comic strip "Gordo," was then an animation assistant at MGM. His future wife, Frances Servier, was an animation painter. He recalls: "We didn't want to join the union. Our objection was not to the union so much as to the threatening methods they used with everyone...Frances and I were among the last ones to join. We were taken for a walk out in the MGM back lot by one of the tough union guys, and he said if we didn't join the union, we weren't going to walk through that front door to work. So we did. Under protest, we joined. And the funny part of it was that by joining, I doubled my salary..."
Below: Manny Perez tries the door.
That May, Leon Schlesinger responded to the union agitation with a lockout of his Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies artists. When the first negotiations began, a Warner executive sneered at director Chuck Jones, "We're not a charity here!" Chuck was stung by the disrespectful remark from a member of management for whom he had worked with such dedication. Jones became one of the few animation directors to be wholeheartedly pro-union.... [The Warners lockout] lasted only six days; then Schlesinger surrendered. "Our own little Six-Day War," noted Jones. When Schlesinger signed the SCG contract, he smiled, looked up at the union leaders and chuckled, "Now, how about Disney's?"


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